The Clouds

Aristophanes
Characters

The Chorus of Clouds

Characters The Chorus of Clouds

The Chorus of Clouds is an intriguing group. The few stage directions we have specify that they must be a group of young women decked out in gauzy cloud- suggesting garb, all of which must have been quite moving and effective when the group sang and danced. Because they are the only ones who speak directly to the audience and who speak about the play and playwriting in general, the Chorus occupies an interesting divide between audience and actors: they seem to be part divinity, part playwright, part commentator. Because of their status as quasi- divinities, they are the element of the play that most suggests the ritual function of early drama. Early drama in fact evolved from competitions of choruses at festivals honoring the god Dionysus. Therefore, it is fitting that the Chorus of Clouds provides the one voice in this play that is urging reverence and invoking the protection of the gods upon the play.

The Chorus members themselves sing and dance en masse, and the effect of their speech and movements must have been constant reminders of religious rite and ritual to an Athenian audience. The prescience the Chorus possesses also suggests their proximity to divinity: they seem to know that they are egging Strepsiades towards his necessary, rectifying downfall and they seem to accept their role which is akin to the role of rectifying "Nemesis" in Greek tragedy.

The Chorus's opportunity to engage the audience in their "parabasis" also provides an instance for them to speak on behalf of the playwright: as his commentator or mouthpiece. Their digression on the moral importance of satire in troubled times and their assertion of the purity of Aristophanes's literary intentions defend Aristophanes and his oeuvre against charges, such as those brought by the politician "Cleon" (I.ii.547), of slander or pointless mockery. Their discourse lends the whole experience of satire its reason for being. Satire is essentially a conservative form whose humor gains its extravagant momentum from its spectacular deviation from an agreed-upon standard of behavior. The Chorus's speech underlines satire's moral function and it reminds the audience to be aware that there are matters involved in the entertainment that are, unlike Unjust Argument, not just pretty words for show, but essential matters that are crucial to the health of Athens that they consider.